Understanding Strategy

February 22nd, 2009

My recent post Strategies for Recession implies that everyone understands strategy. The truth is that strategy isn’t well understood and means many things to different people. One of my students in a recent session indicated she had worked on strategy development project for a large unnamed company and the executives didn’t have a clue as to what strategy is and how to utilize it. Hopefully, we’ll shed some light on strategy and how it is crafted.I think competitive strategy is about being different and deliberately making choices relative to activities that will provide a unique value proposition to customers. One contradiction is that operational effectiveness is strategy. This is what every organization should be doing to remain competitive. Strategy is about making tough choices needed to maintain a competitive advantage. These are choices to change the rules so they work in your favor.

Having the right goals is a critical component of having a sound strategy. Setting goals and objectives represent components of effective strategies. Strategy needs to have continuity and isn’t something that can be constantly reinvented. It boils down to the basic value proposition you are trying to deliver to customers.

A good strategy includes simple consistency between all the functional activities and the overall strategy. The strategic fit drives competitive advantage and sustainability and occurs when the activities are reinforcing thus achieving optimization of effort. Competitive strategy grows out of the entire system of activities.

Thompson and Strickland in their book Crafting and Implementing Strategy define five primary tasks:
1. Formulating a strategic vision of the company’s future business composition and the direction where the entity is headed.
2. Setting objectives.
3. Crafting a strategy to achieve the desired outcomes.
4. Implementing and executing the selected strategy efficiently and effectively.
5. Evaluating organizational performance and making appropriate corrective adjustment wherever necessary.

These five primary tasks become a continuous loop whereby you are observing, orienting, deciding, and acting on necessary adjustments as needed. In the current economic environment, organizations need to be agile and quick in making these decisions.

I will provide additional insight on strategy and how to apply it effectively in the future. In the meantime some strategic terminology might be helpful. Here are some definitions that will help to remove some of the mystery.

Strategic Vision is a view of the organization’s future direction and business makeup. The organization’s mission is defining it’s the business purpose and what the business is trying to accomplish on behalf of its customers. Strategic objectives represent the targets management establishes for strengthening the organization’s overall business position and competitive vitality. So strategy represents the actions and approaches that are implemented to satisfy customers and the strategic plan is a statement outlining the mission, performance targets and strategy.

This should provide some clarity and eliminate confusion related to strategy. Hopefully this will help you navigate turbulent waters and craft your strategies for survival.